Our next contributor is Paul Ashford, curator of Little Rubber Monsters, which can be found on Facebook and Instagram. If you spend any time following his posts on either platform, then it should really come as little surprise that Paul will be taking look at 2 entries in the Critters film franchise. What is a little surprising is that it took 4 years of being a contributor for this series to finally get to this franchise, especially since our mutual fandom for the Critters films (his level of “fandom” far surpassing mine) is how he and I initially met almost 10 years ago.
What may also be a little surprising to some is that the 2 films featured in this piece weren’t released in the same year, at least not here in the States. While Critters 3 released in December of 1991, with Critters 4 following in October of 1992, both films released simultaneously in the UK in 1992. At least, we think they did. I’m not certain that we ever found definitive proof. As no one else attempted to claim either 1991 or 1992, I guess we will just let it slide.
Critters and Critters 2 are a big deal for me. I must have almost worn out the VHS tapes from rewatching them so many times during the late ’80s and early ’90s. So, you had to imagine my excitement when, during one of my regular visits to the Blockbuster Video in my local town, I gazed upon not only Critters 3, but also Critters 4!
Now, only being 14 years old, I was unable to actually rent them. Luckily for me, copies started to appear in the ex-rental bins maybe a couple of months later and it is here that I got my Dad to buy me both, in a half-price sale, reduced from the high price of $29.99 each.
My excitement and expectation was very high for Critters 3, and the cover and tagline did nothing to dispel that. “First, they destroyed a farm. Then, they terrorized a town. Now, they’re ready to do some real damage!” The film never lived up to that tagline, and indeed not my high expectations, but it is still a film and experience that I fondly remember today.
So, while I already felt let down by the obvious cut in budget and production values, the promised damage never materialized either as the film was set almost entirely in an apartment block. The only real damage done was a measly 2 deaths (both bad guys), a few critter spike injuries, and a fire that breaks out in the apartment building (which is extinguished by a fire crew at the end). And just to add insult to injury… Grover’s Bend, the town from the first 2 movies, gets barely a mention! And Charlie, the hero “town drunk-turned-Bounty Hunter”, has his screen time shrunk to almost a cameo at the start and then features in maybe the last 20 minutes or so to help save the day.
YET, somehow I still love this little movie. You see, the Critters themselves again look fantastic in this installment. Created by the Chiodo Brothers, they look and move great. And although drastically reduced in numbers from Part 2, the screen time they get here is okay. Yes, the kills are limited, but what we do get is more shenanigans! Like, a Critter farting from eating beans and burping bubbles after drinking washing-up liquid. Heck, we even get a Critter performing a Sonic the Hedgehog-style spin-dash attack, even if it does end with the poor little guy banging his head on a laundry bin lid! For me as a 14 year old, I really appreciated this humour, and the time spent watching the Critters run amok in a kitchen… it’s like the director thought, “Hey, that Hungry Heifer scene from Critters 2 was really funny! How can we get that into Part 3?”
The film certainly doesn’t seem to take itself seriously. It’s mostly played for laughs even from the human roles, with gags such as watching Marcia (one of the residents) dangling from a power cable by her ankle for much of the movie, trying to desperately reach a phone box to call for help. Or Annie, the DiCaprio love interest (Yep! This was Leo’s first movie role, but I think all horror fans know that) using a waste bin as a bowling ball and knocking over the Critters on the stairs like bowling pins!
And I think it’s this silly humour, along with the wonderful Chiodo Brothers creations, that kept this film from being a complete letdown for me, or at least just another straight-to-video dud. Somehow it all blends together to create a fun little way to waste an hour and a half. Just as long as you aren’t expecting gore and kills, or something on the same level as parts 1 & 2.
And why do I fondly remember it today? Well, it has a lot to do with the excitement over my first seeing the cover art, laughing at the Critters messing up the kitchen, and then the wonder over the final credits as Ug (the main Bounty Hunter from 1 & 2) appears as a hologram, instructing Charlie not to destroy the last Critter egg.
So, Critters 4. I watched it back to back with Part 3. And it indeed was filmed back-to-back with 3, with just a 2-week gap in-between to allow the sets to be changed from an apartment block… to a spaceship! Yep, Critters 4 sees the franchise going into space. Interestingly, a lot of horror fans say that Critters 4 started the fad of sending horror movies into space (Jason X, Leprechaun in Space, etc). However, the Critters came from space, so a return was not much of a surprise. I don’t think the film made a big enough splash in video sales to make other horror franchises “copy” the idea! But enough, I’m here to talk about MY experience with Part 4… and boy, it’s not a good one!
After watching Critters 3, with the humour and Critter fun keeping me entertained, Critters 4 had a promising start. The cover art again was really nice (UK art, anyway), a nice parody on the Alien artwork. And, of course, Ug was going to be in this one as teased from the end of Part 3. However, what we actually got was a pretty dull straight-to-video sci-fi film, with barely any Critter action at all.
Yes, that’s right! After having Charlie sidelined in Part 3, we now find the Critters themselves barely having any screen time, and indeed not having much to do at all. Really? What were they thinking? Other than the cover art, there is nothing else I really like about this one. Sadly, I can remember 14-year old me watching this film and being very disappointed, and also confused at the lack of Critter Carnage.
Oh, and that promise of Ug coming back? Forget it! Here, he plays “Counsellor Tetra” of the Terracon Organisation… and he turns out to be the “bad guy”! While that sounds like it could be an interesting twist, I hated it! I just wanted to see Charlie and Ug save the day again! Although, it did provide one line that sticks in my memory to this day… When Charlie is questioning why Ug has turned, he simply responds, “Things change, Charlie.” That alone broke my heart, realising that this is NOT the badass bounty hunter Ug from the previous installments.
And that’s it, really; a bitterly disappointing end to the Critters franchise (for 25 years anyway, Critters: A New Binge is coming soon, one way or the other). Aside from some brief Critter fun, such as a Critter getting freeze-gunned with the line, “Chill out, asshole!”… or one jumping inside a poor guy’s mouth, complete with tiny dangling feet sticking out… that was my experience of Critters 4. I remember my school friends at the time shared the same thoughts.
Although, (if I’m totally honest) on repeat viewings today, 4 isn’t as bad as I remember. If you can forgive the sparse Critter action (which I couldn’t as a kid), there is still a reasonable sci-fi film underneath. Nothing to shout about, but it exists. And it does star Angela Basset and Brad Dourif! Rather tellingly to finish this review, my friend Chris Lacks over at Critters Rehatched met Brad at a recent convention and tried to talk to him about Critters 4. Brad had a confused look on his face when signing the Critters 4 poster, like he could not remember anything. He even said that he thought he was in 2 of these films, to which Chris corrected him.
So, there you have it! I think that sums up Critters 4 to me in one word…. “Forgettable”. But, of course, I still love this franchise to bits, even if I disliked more than I liked on this chapter.
Here’s to a New Binge!